Friday, September 14, 2012

The Journey of Ewing Sarcoma

It was warm outside and within his high school’s walls, but Ben shivered. Rosh Hashanah—the new year—is approaching, and I get this? he thought, longing to time warp to the following September to bypass the intense cancer treatment ahead of him.

Ben’s life had become a whirlwind: doctors, so many of them, some called “fellows” which he guessed meant that they were nice; painless tests in cylinders and in rooms where the technician refused to remain; painful tests with needles; vials to collect his blood, pee, and semen.

Now just two days before beginning treatment Ben sat in his school library, void of the jackhammering cylinder, beeping poles and silent screaming of the cancer halls. His assignment was to write a paper for Journalism, but he was going to get an “A” without effort anyway, even if he had never been diagnosed. Ben opened Microsoft Paint instead.

Perspective of a Ewing's sarcoma tumor
Ben knew his tumor was called Ewing’s sarcoma, which was composed of round blue cells. I wonder if the tumor bleeds blue like in the alien video games, he thought, chuckling. He drew his blue-speckled tumor. He gave the tumor spiky hair, big eyes and a wide smile. But why was the tumor happy since he was going to lose? Ben undid the mouth and instead drew an open one filled with terror. Ewing better be afraid of me, coming in over “5 foot nothin', 100 and nothin'”…though not by much. Ben chuckled again.

He printed the drawing of his scared tumor, who he named Ewing Sarcoma, and attached the picture to the refrigerator at home. He normally ignored Ewing Sarcoma. But sometimes, after returning from the hospital for long stretches to receive chemo or in immunodeficient isolation, Ben would stare at Ewing. He tried crafting a clever put down, but failed, blaming “chemo brain,” though insults were never his strong suit. “Fuck you, you spiky fuck.” There, simple enough.


Ewing remained unflinching in his flat environment, despite the cursing, spitting and physical violence. He knew there must be a dent behind him large enough to break the seal. No wonder why his ass was always so cold. He wanted to cry, not for himself but for Ben, his creator and reason for existence. Ewing wanted to consume Ben’s chemo and suffering, but understood his role. Ben needed him for release, and Ewing would sacrifice anything to help.

Ewing’s greatest sacrifice was letting Ben crumple him into a ball after Ben completed treatment, and throw him in the garbage. Ewing found a sliver of light. Is Ben’s dad seriously throwing a banana peel on me? When dirty Windex rags came next, Ewing wished for more fruit. At least now he could cry because Ben no longer needed him; actually, Ben would try to go each day without letting cancer cross through his mind. Ewing had became a reminder.

Ewing wiggled free of his two dimensions and bolted when no one was looking. Once outside he looked at Ben through the window and sniffled. I’ll return when you need me. I promise. Ewing couldn’t bare it any longer, so he said a prayer for Ben and hopped away, without looking back.

Ewing’s new life purpose was out there, somewhere, so he ventured through the forest in search. Wow, the world was huge to him! The colors, creatures and dimensions were overwhelming. Which critters should he fear, how much sun leads to a burn or skin cancer, which plant oil soothes the rash on his head? Ewing would need help to survive.

Ewing found that most insects and animals snarled at him, with two exceptions: earthworms and baby mice. But the earthly-colored and elongated worm reminded him of that banana peel, and he needed to put Ben out of his mind. One day, with some liquid courage thanks to fermented sewage he gulped, Ewing approached a like-sized baby mouse. He offered the rash cream he had developed on his own as a peace offering. The timid baby mouse accepted the cream, and rubbed it under his tail. “Oh, thank you. I’m never eating pepper jack cheese again. My name is Pong, what’s yours?”

“I’m Ewing.”

“Listen, Ewing, I’m an orphan thanks to my bastard dad, but that’s a long story. Let’s stick together.”

Ewing was delighted with his pal and grew to enjoy his freedom, though he suspected there never was another purpose in life: there was only fun. Ewing and Pong bartered their rash cream for narcotics and sewage alcohol. The addiction took hold quickly. They couldn’t make enough rash cream, so Ewing engaged in sexual encounters with any willing participant, despite his lack of reproductive organs. He first cursed Ben for this, and then himself for resenting his creator.

Ewing and Pong were sometimes robbed. And there was that one instance of sexual abuse. But altogether they did pretty well together, traveling the forest and accumulating adventures. I just wish the blackouts weren’t so severe, Ewing thought. And why doesn’t Pong get them, too?

One morning, Ewing woke up blind. He wiped his big, blue eyes clean and realized the blockage had been hardened, sewage-scented vomit. He had many bleeding tumor ulcers. Worse yet, he recalled nothing. “Pong, what happened?”

“Dude, you hooked us up with the best stuff last night! You should be glad you can’t remember in this case!”

Ewing’s entire being was sore, but the sharpest pain was in his heart. He now understood his “fun” was all just camouflage for his life unfulfilled. He loved his friend, but Pong would never understand or relate to his desires. And despite constantly searching for another tumor perception like him, he was the only one; no human had ever drawn a tumor perception besides Ben.

Ewing entered a depressed slumber and woke up days later in a cold sweat. Something pulsed through Ewing. He brushed it off as part of his sadness and withdrawal. But the pain that began in his head expanded, and Ewing could only think one thing: he was dying of cancer.

He wanted to enter death’s gates alone, so he said goodbye to his wonderful companion, Pong, and departed unknowingly in the direction of Ben. Ewing pondered God, the fairness of the world, and his afterlife. He hopped all day and night, and by the next morning his pain dissipated. Does a spreading tumor diminish pain sensations as death approaches? He looked around for a sign. What he found was the same scenery he encountered years earlier, when he left Ben. This pain wasn’t a tumor at all: it was a beacon because Ben needed Ewing again! Just as Ewing couldn’t will others to see the world as Ben had in his own creation years before, Ben couldn’t will himself to forget cancer.

Ewing hopped with great strides, ignoring crickets and earthworms. He picked up speed to a near glide until he reached his home again. Ewing stopped, unable to move. He was peering at Ben through his open bedroom window as his eyes drowned in tears of joy. This moment made all the hangovers and lost years worth the journey. Ewing excelled at telling time via the sun's position, and noted it was September 14, 2012, at 3:40 p.m., give or take. That meant that Ben was precisely eleven years cancer-free.

Ewing didn’t know what to do: how would he present himself as a talking, living, three-dimensional tumor perception? Ewing’s thoughts were disrupted when Ben’s phone rang. Ewing eavesdropped. “I know, eleven years is crazy,” Ben spoke into the receiver. I knew it! Ewing thought, and continued listening. “But it’s different now. I used to think that life stopped until I reached that single milestone where I could consider myself cancer-free. And the accumulation of cancer-free anniversaries was the gold standard.

“But what if there was no end of treatment? Like, you just lived your life with cancer where the only goal is to stay alive; to live? Am I somehow superior, or more of a survivor, just because I have this luxury of celebrating treatment's completion? No, I don’t think so.

“Did you know that some people celebrate the diagnosis? And I couldn’t even tell you when mine was. I think really we’re all celebrating the same thing: that cancer struck our paths and altered them irreparably, leading to freedom even if not from the physical disease itself.

“It’s silly, but when I was first diagnosed I drew a picture of my perception of my tumor. It was this spotted blob that was terrified because I was about to annihilate him. I used that picture to light my rage, and it worked. But what if I was looking at it all wrong, like if my tunneled approach prevented me from really living free? Now that I've been cancer-free for so long I think I wouldn't undo my diagnosis if I had the choice.

“…I know, I know, gibberish. Anyway, thanks for the cancer-free anniversary congrats, and I’ll talk to you later.”

To Ben, Ewing had been a symbol of how to destroy cancer; now, Ben needed a symbol of how to live a complete life thanks to cancer. But he didn’t need Ewing either as a friend or a symbol, because cancer was a deep part of Ben now. Ben's reminder came from within.

Ewing slouched out of site and sobbed, sobbed, sobbed through his wide open mouth. He regretted nothing of his journey. He had served his creator, left to allow Ben’s proper self-discovery, and returned to see his own purpose come full circle.

Ewing’s mouth began twitching. He hopped towards the nearest pond to look at his reflection, fearing the site of his blood. Rather than blood, he saw that his mouth changed shape and was no longer filled with terror. He was smiling.

Ewing ventured towards the forest again, no looking back, only forward to the journey in front. He understood his new life purpose: to share Ben’s perspective with the whole wide world. If everyone diagnosed with cancer drew their tumor perception then they would use that for motivation to survive, and eventually through self-discovery attain their sense of organic wholeness, like Ben had. Ewing could benefit humanity.

He thought, chuckling, that he could also benefit himself from the existence of other tumor perceptions who could finally relate to him. There was just one thing he could never benefit from. "Fuck Ben for creating me without sex organs," Ewing said aloud, laughing wildly.

Author's note: This published on my 11th anniversary of surviving bone cancer, in 2012. On my 12th anniversary in 2013, I completed this short story with two more installments. You can continue reading Ewing's journey here: Ewing Sarcoma and a Purpose Driven Life

Disclaimer: The character Ewing Sarcoma and its likeness are the property of Benjamin Rubenstein. All rights reserved.